Slub at the Deershed festival

Deershed is a music festival designed to accommodate families with lots of activities for children. Part of this year’s festival was a Machines Tent, including Lego robot building, Mechano constructions, 3D printing and computer games.

Slub’s daily routine in the Machines Tent started by setting up the Al Jazari gamepad livecoding installation, a couple of hours with Martyn Eggleton teaching Scratch programming on an amazing quad Raspberry Pi machine (screens/processors and keyboards all built into a welded cube).


At some point we would switch to Minecraft, trying some experiments livecoding the LAN game world using Martyn’s system to access the Minecraft API using Waterbear, a visual programming language using a similar blocks approach as Scratch and Scheme Bricks.

During the afternoons Alex and I could try some music livecoding experiments. This was a great environment for playful audience participatory performances, with families continually passing through the tent I could use a dancemat to trigger synths in fluxus while Alex livecoded music designed to encourage people to jump up and down.


One of the most interesting things for me was to be able to see how lots of children (who mostly didn’t know each other) collaborate and self organise themselves in a LAN game, there was quite a pattern to it with all the groups:

  1. Mess around with Minecraft as usual (make some blocks, start building a house).
  2. Find something built by someone else, destroy a few bricks.
  3. Snap out of the game to notice that the other kids are complaining.
  4. Realise that there are other people in the world – and they are sat around them!
  5. Attempt to fix the damage.

At this point other people would join in to help fix things, after which there would be some kind of understanding reached between them to respect each other’s creations. This has all really inspired me to work on Al Jazari 2 which combines a lot of these ideas.


Deershed Festival, Sonic Bike Lab, Fascinate Festival

Preparations for a busy summer, new Al Jazari installation gamepads on the production line:


This weekend Alex and I are off to the Deershed Festival in Yorkshire to bring slub technology to the younger generation. We’ll be livecoding algorave, teaching scratch programming on Raspberry Pis and running an Al Jazari installation in between. Then onwards to London for a Sonic Bike Lab with Kaffe Matthews where we’re going to investigate the future of sonic bike technology and theory – including possibly, bike sensor driven synthesis and on the road post-apocalyptic mesh networking.

At the end of August I’m participating in my local media arts festival – Fascinate in Falmouth, where I’ll be dispensing a dose of algorave and probably even more musical robot techno.

Genetic programming egg patterns in HTML5 canvas

Part of the ‘Project Nightjar’ camouflage work I’m doing for the Sensory Ecology group at Exeter University is to design citizen science games we can build to do some research. One plan is to create lots of patterns in the browser that we can run perceptual models on for different predator animals, and use an online game to compare them with human perception.

The problem is that using per-pixel processing in order to generate the variety of patterns we need is hard to do quickly in Javascript, so I’m looking at using genetic programming to build image processing trees using the HTML5 canvas image composition modes. You can see it in action here, and the source is here. Here are some example eggs built from very simple test images blended together, these are just random programs, but a couple of them are pretty good:


A nice aspect of this is that it’s easy to artistically control the patterns by changing the starting images, for example much more naturalistic patterns would result from noisier, less geometric base images and more earthy colours. This way we can have different ‘themes’ for levels in a game, for example.

I’m using the scheme compiler I wrote for planet fluxus to do this, and building trees that look like this:

    ("terminal" (124 57 0 1) "stripe-6")
    ("terminal" (42 23 0 1) "dots-6"))
    ("terminal" (36 47 0 1) "stripe-7")
    ("terminal" (8 90 1.5705 1) "red")))
  ("terminal" (108 69 0 1) "green"))

Ops are the blend mode operations, and terminals are images, which include translation and scale (not currently used). The egg trees get drawn with the function below, which shows the curious hybrid mix of HTML5 canvas and Scheme I’m using these days (and some people may find offensive :) Next up is to actually do the genetic programming part, so mutating and doing crossover on the trees.

(define (draw-egg ctx x y program)
  (if (eq? (program-type program) "terminal")
        (set! ctx.fillStyle
               (find-image (terminal-image program) 
                           image-lib) "repeat"))

        ;; centre the rotation
        (ctx.translate 64 64)
            (transform-rotate (terminal-transform program)))
        (ctx.translate -64 -64)

        ;; make the pattern translate by moving, 
        ;; drawing then moving back
            (transform-x (terminal-transform program))
             (transform-y (terminal-transform program)))

            (- 0 (transform-x (terminal-transform program)))
            (- 0 (transform-y (terminal-transform program)))
            (* 127 2) (* 127 2))

            (- 0 (transform-x (terminal-transform program)))
            (- 0 (transform-y (terminal-transform program)))))
        ;; slightly overzealous context saving/restoring
        ;; set the composite operation
        (set! ctx.globalCompositeOperation (operator-type program))
        (draw-egg ctx x y (operator-operand-a program))
        (draw-egg ctx x y (operator-operand-b program))

Project Nightjar and responsive web design

Responsive web design is about how to deal with the multitude of different shaped screens that people are now using. Although it has some interesting technological aspects, it’s the philosophy that I find appealing – the idea of designing for the smallest and most limited form first, and then looking at how it can be progressively changed as the capabilities improve, in a continuous way rather than targeting specific devices. The idea is that this tends to be more successful than the other way around – i.e. thinking about the best case first, and taking stuff away as capabilities reduce.

For the design for Project Nightjar, we needed something colourful and accessible, and something we can build as we add games and other experiments later on. I decided to use compass, starting with fffunction’s tool sassaparilla for building the front end and django for the framework. This has meant that I’ve been able to quickly put together a site that the researchers can edit themselves, and that works on all devices.

Here are some quick screenshots, as the site isn’t public yet:

2013.07.10-15.03.28 2013.07.10-15.03.43


One of the things that caught me out was how to stop mobile browsers trying to display the site as a normal web page, it turns out they report the screen width differently unless you specifically tell them not to with:

    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width">

Visual livecoding environments: big screenshots

Some decent sized screenshots of al jazari and scheme bricks rendered with fluxus’s tiled frame dump command. This set includes some satisfyingly glitchy al jazari shots – not sure what was causing this, I initially assumed it was the orthographic projection, but the same artefacts occurred on the perspective first-person robot views, so it needs further investigation.